Earlier this month I had the opportunity to join other Fulbrighters at an academic conference for community colleges to share about our experiences. We participated in two panel discussions and presentations. The panelists included visiting Fulbrighters from Kyrgyzstan, Togo, and Morocco; U.S. Fulbright ETAs (English Teaching Assistants) in Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, and Peru; and U.S. Fulbright Scholars researching and teaching in Nicaragua and Estonia (me!). Our audience consisted of community college educators and professionals. Community colleges are the least represented higher education sector in the Fulbright program, so it was important to share with this group. Afterwards, several faculty members indicated interest in considering a Fulbright as part of their future professional plans.
Sharing about your experiences as a Fulbrighter is a powerful way of connecting with professionals and the general public. With professionals, it opens up opportunities for career possibilities. Your experience overseas will be viewed as an important asset to a company or organization in an increasingly globalized world. With the general public, sharing about your Fulbright grant offers you a chance to show how international experiences are important for learning and growth, as well as global economic development and intercultural relations. U.S. taxpayers should be aware of how the Fulbright program contributes to national objectives.
Finding opportunities to talk about your Fulbright experience can be formal, such as a conference or professional meeting, but can also be informal such as at a social gathering. Sometimes the best places to share are with youth in educational settings. Schools are frequently looking for guest speakers to talk about interesting work that might inspire young people. This is an ideal setting for you to share about your time overseas. Stories about living in another country can be powerful ways to show our connection with others around the world. Talking about food, work, family life, and other customs can intrigue youth to think about what they can do to make the world a better place through international engagement. Think about where you went to school. Contact the principal or a teacher there and offer to share: you will not be turned down, I can guarantee that. International education week in November is often a time when presenters are needed. And when meeting with youth, don’t merely talk to them, but get them involved in an activity that allows them to really understand the culture that you experienced. Teach students a song, or engage in some artwork. If you are looking for a formal way of engagement, check out the Fulbright Association’s Fulbright-in-the-Classroom Program, which facilitates opportunities for Fulbrighters to talk in K-12 schools.
Making connections can be done in many ways. Giving back to students, professionals or the public by sharing your experiences advances not only the Fulbright program, but also introduces you to individuals who in turn can open doors.
—David J. Smith
David J. Smith (Fulbright Scholar, Estonia 2003-2004) is a career coach and the author of Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (Information Age Publishing 2016). He is on the career advisory board of the Peace and Collaborative Development Network. David writes regularly on career issues at davidjsmithconsulting.com. He can reached at email@example.com.